Evolving Babar cherishes scoring runs in front of home crowd

The recent transition in Pakistan cricket has seen several players fade away but Babar Azam has pressed onto establish himself as one of the key members of the side. Arguably, he is one of the three all-format players in the set-up alongside his captain Sarfraz Ahmed and fast bowler Mohammad Amir.

What's the first thing that comes to the mind about Babar? That is he is the first cousin of the Akmal brothers who had represented Pakistan across formats. Babar, however, has carved his own identity at the international level.

He had been earmarked as a special talent since age-group cricket and he furthered his credentials by featuring in two Under-19 World Cups in 2010 and 2012, when he was Pakistan's top scorer. After Pakistan were ousted from the 2015 World Cup, the focus turned to youth, and Babar's talent did not miss the eyes of the then-coach Waqar Younis.

Babar, subsequently, made his international debut in an ODI in May 2015 in Lahore against Zimbabwe - a rarity because Babar's rise was during Pakistan's isolation as an international venue due to security concerns. He then smashed a hat-trick of hundreds against West Indies in the UAE, and became the joint fastest to 1000 ODI runs, equalling Viv Richards, Kevin Pietersen, Jonathan Trott and Quinton De Kock.

Top-flight cricket returned to Pakistan on Tuesday night and Babar marked it with an exquisite 86 off 52 balls, in front of his home crowd. He missed a maiden T20 hundred, but provided great entertainment with 10 fours and two sixes - the highlight being a trademark pull through square leg off Morne Morkel. He followed it with attractive drives off Ben Cutting and a skillful jab through midwicket.

Babar's Test returns - he averages only 27.25 - haven't been as productive as his limited-overs returns, but the selectors have trust in him, largely because of his unflappable temperament, which came to the fore in Lahore. Babar cherished scoring runs in front of his home crowd and said it was "something special".

"It's obviously difficult to play your own home series away from home because playing at home is relatively easy for us," he said. "It's mainly because we grew up playing at our home venues, attuned with the conditions and with the crowd support it's more enjoyable. It helps a lot also playing in front of a crowd that loves cricket and loves you and performing make us more special. We unfortunately have been deprived of playing at home regularly [sic] while every team around the world enjoys the privilege of playing at their home. I did play one game earlier against Zimbabwe at home and it also gives you immense pleasure to play at your home ground."

Babar's match-winning knock against a diverse and robust World XI team highlighted his evolution as a limited-overs batsman. He is strong in defence, picks his shots smartly, and knows when to accelerate. With Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq retiring Pakistan cricket seemed to be in a crisis, but Babar has given hope. He is only 22 and seems set to carry the batting for a long time, like Younis and Misbah had done.